From Germany to China on two wheels

Kai Grimmel and Ulrike Teutriene stop in Athens as part of their adventurous journey on two bicycles – accompanied by two dogs

He was a 52-year-old a chemical engineer. She was a 45-year-old marketing director. They used to live in Frankfurt with their two dogs, their nine to five jobs, relatives, friends and weekend get-togethers. They were happy. Or were they? “You wake up one morning and think: ‘Is this my life? How much longer am I going to observe the world through documentaries and photojournalism? When will I find the courage to get out there myself?’” Ms.Ulrike Teutriene confesses to the 'To Vima'. It didn’t take them long to make the big decision. They cancelled their lease agreement, sold all their belongings, and gave notice of their resignations. “That was probably the scariest part. Walking into my boss’s office and saying the words: ‘I’m quitting so that I can bicycle to China!’ He looked at me as if I’d gone mad” said her husband, Mr. Kai Grimmel, laughing.

Greece is better up close

It was inevitable that they had to say goodbye to their friends and relatives for a while but they couldn’t bring themselves to be away from their dogs, Klara and Lio, who are an essential part of the immediate family. “We couldn’t leave them behind, so we decided to bring them along. We purchased a special travelling trailer-home for them that can be connected to the back of my bicycle,” Mr. Grimmel explains Downhill and when we’re in cities we put them inside their trailer where they’re safe. When we’re going uphill, I leash them to my bicycle and they run alongside us. The biggest problem is transporting their food, which weighs about three kilos and has to be with us at all times,he adds. The two Germans tote around a tent, cooking utensils, tools, a spare tire, and even a little gas stove. Their luggage makes the 40 to 50 kilometers they travel every day an even more impressive undertaking.

They quickly came up with a travel plan and departed from Frankfurt on August 1st. They crossed the German Austrian borders and cycled through the Alps in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. They traveled through Serbia, Montenegro and Albania before entering Greece last week. They then began their descent to the Western Peloponnese, with a stop-over in Athens. We were very curious about your country because the German media has been focusing on the image of Greek chaos and disaster for so long. Seeing Greece with our own eyes made a very different impression. The landscapes are varied and breathtaking, the people are warm and eager to help, and the weather is amazing,” Ms. Teutriene remarks.

They couldn’t escape receiving a dose of Greek irresponsibility and self-destructive tendencies, however, and what better place to observe these phenomena than on the Greek roads? “The drivers would fly past us at break-neck speeds, leaving us little room to maneuver. Motorbikes ran red lights chasing down pedestrians and bicyclists alike. The police conveniently looked the other way the few times we encountered them. I get the feeling that Greek driving reflects a general disregard for the law and state power. Drivers seem to insist on ignoring the law, preferring to find their own solutions,” Mr. Grimmel pointed out. Upon hearing Emmanuel Rhoides’s famous phrase that Greece is in need of only one new law, that which will enforce the existing laws”, the two Germans broke into laughter. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Maybe all that you need is to roll up your sleeves and start obeying your own laws,” Ms. Teutriene points out.

Lofty elevations and risky visas

The next stop on the itinerary is Turkey, after spending a day on the island of Kos. The couple will then bicycle through Syria and Iran, passing through Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to reach the western edge of the Himalayas. There they will face not only the challenge of the steep elevation (reaching 3.000 m.), but also the difficulty of acquiring a visa from the Chinese authorities. 

The bicyclists not particularly concerned, on the contrary, they seem to be reveling in the daring twists of their journey. We wanted to have an adventure and we will, even if things don’t go according to plan. The message we’re trying to get across to young people especially, is that if two middle-aged people can bike around the world then there’s no excuse for you not to get up off your couches!” they end emphatically.

Εllie Ismailidou published November 23, 2010, ‘To Vima' print and online edition
Photos: Costas Lakafosis/ ‘To Vima’ 
See original story in Greek here